Relational Leadership (Part Four)

Describing Relational Leadership is what my last posts have been about. Relational Leadership, as explained in Part Two, is the recognition that leaders and followers are in relationship to one another. Good leaders must therefore connect with the values and motivations of followers. In other words, a Relational Leader understands that the culture of a group, whether a church or a business, needs to reflect the values of the group and that those same values must permeate the entire workplace top to bottom.

So what does Relational Leadership look like in action? Here is an example.

Tony Hsieh who recently sold his company for $850 million was interviewed by Anthony Tjan over at HBR and opined,  “I am also a big believer in optimizing company performance and driving culture, using intrinsic motivators (like meaningful roles with learning and growth) over extrinsic factors (such as compensation). In a prior post I wrote about how to make employees happier. Extrinsic motivations like pay and status are certainly needed (people need to eat, after all), but it is the intrinsic motivation that drives purpose and long-term commitment.”

A Relational Leader connects with the intrinsic values and motivations of people. As a result people work harder and are happier because they believe they are engaged in something significant and meaningful to them.

Many leaders of businesses and churches say they are driven by the core values of their group but in fact they are not consistent. Instead they allow elements of the organization (org chart, constitution, tradition) to be the drivers in terms of how business gets done. In essence power, authority, and position become reasons for why things are the way they are.

Hsieh recognizes this fact and observes, “For us the difference is that we wanted to come up with committable core values, meaning we’re actually willing to hire and fire people based on them, regardless of, or independent of, their specific job performance.”

Just imagine, a board member or leader who, although competent, was made to step down because they were not expressing the core values of the group. And why not? After all, a good leader is a champion of the organization’s core values . 

When people are not held accountable for expressing the values of the group, leaders unwittingly communicate that core values are not really important. As a result, those who truly are committed feel de-valued and the morale and the spirit of the whole organization plummets. Perplexed leaders begin hearing charges of being “two-faced” without realizing that the source of people’s frustration is actually their own inaction.

Many in the church have recognized in the Bible, Mathew 18 as a kind of 3 step procedure to solving this kind of personnel problem. The offending individual is first approached one on one; then with one or two people in authority; and finally they are “fired” if no change is made. No matter the context, religious or secular, Relational Leaders adapt these principles to their work context and then act to make value alignment a priority for their organization.

3 thoughts on “Relational Leadership (Part Four)

  1. I think that whole intrinsic vs. external motivation thing is really all about giving people a sense of purpose and belonging and meaning to what they do at work. And I agree that leaders have influence to create that kind of opportunity in their workplace settings. The culture/values are part of that overall context of meaning, and would be one of those things that help screen incoming employees as well as being used on the way out. The stronger the values are defined and articulated, the easier it would be to interview employees for a fit with those values to begin with.

    As always, very interesting material!

  2. The push for intrinsic motivations would clearly make things much more complex, especially when speaking in terms of larger corporations. But I wonder, too, if there is a basic trust issue that exists in power relations (like that in part 2 of this blog series). One is given a position of power due to experience, education, intelligence, wisdom, and/or other factors. How much better would it be to have a centralized control by a wise benefactor to bring everyone into more efficient and happy living, than to have everyone moron out there deciding for him/herself? There is a safety to the centralized control, and a vulnerability to failure, confusion, selfishness, etc. when more authority is given “further down.”

    Of course, I’m being a tad ironic here. But is this not a belief that comes into play, if not before, then as soon as one acquires a position of authority? And, of course, when one is in authority over a large group, one cannot deal with intrinsic motivation, but must deal with only those motivations that are manageable on a broad scale.

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